I cast my vote yesterday and I want to put a word in here to encourage young voters to participate, and to provide some resources for voters to help get them to the polls. I remember my first presidential election, and vividly recall how initimidating it was to step into the booth. Even though my candidate for president lost that year, I remember the exhilaration I felt for having participated in the process.
Young people, along with the poor, people of color, and the elderly, are among those most easily disenfranchised from America’s electoral process. I personally don’t believe that apathy is really a factor in the historically low turn-out among young people. I think young people, like first-time voters of any age – are more vulnerable to misinformation, confusion, and voter intimidation than more experienced voters. There is also a genuine distrust of the process – young voters don’t believe that their vote counts, and again, this isn’t apathy, it’s a feeling engendered by the electoral process (in particular the electoral college system), and by the negative experience of the last two presidential elections in which voter disenfranchisement played such signifcant roles.
But in this election, with new voter registration and the enthusiasm of young voters at record levels, the votes of young people have the potential to make a huge difference. Particularly in swing states like Colorado, Ohio, and Florida, the participation of young voters may well decide the election. Even in Pennsylvania, new voters and young voters can have a significant impact on the outcome, one way or another. And despite disenchantment with the electoral college, young people must recognize that their vote can have a significant impact on state and local elections and ballot initiatives that directly effect them.
A couple of tips for young or first-time voters:
- Be Informed. Know your candidates and where they stand on issues that are most likely to impact your life: education, the economy, the wars, etc. On ballot initiatives, the language is often “legalese” and it’s hard to understand what a “Yes” or “No” vote actually means. Look at local news reports, and the websites of both pro and anti organizations, to understand what you’re voting for or against before you go to the polls. If there’s an initiative or a candidate that you just aren’t sure about, simply don’t cast a vote for that particular item. It’s not required that you vote for every race or issue on the ballot.
- Plan Ahead. Know where your polling place is, and allow plenty of time to vote – registration is high and record turn-outs are anticipated nationwide, so notify work or school in advance if you think you’re going to be late. It’s illegal for an employer to deny you access to the polls, but planning ahead can help avoid unnecessary conflict. If your state offers early voting, take advantage of it (I did!).
- Know Your Rights. Make sure you understand the requirements for first-time voters in your state. Every state has different rules regarding providing identification, so it may make sense to come prepared with a state government-issued ID (driver’s license or state ID; improbably, passports don’t count in most states!). You can visit the website of your state’s Secretary of State for information on voting rules.
- Make Your Own Decision. What happens in the voting booth is a personal, private matter. Don’t let friends, parents, priests, pastors or teachers influence your decision by intimidating or threatening you. It’s great to talk with all of these folks about how your values and beliefs relate to political issues and candidates’ platforms, but the final decision is yours and yours alone. No one should be allowed to coerce you to vote their way. That’s the opposite of Democracy!
There are many organizations that provide information for young voters, and on voting rights in general. I’ve provided links below for a couple of the better ones below.
So get out and vote, and help others get to the polls as well. Regardless of political affiliation, the participation of young people is a crucial part of American Democracy, and of all the people voting over the next several days, it is their future that’s most at stake.
Resources for Voters